Weekend in the Toddler House
Review of two books by Reb Zalman

The moment, here and gone

The crib. June 2012.

I can't count how many times this happened when Drew was an infant. Someone would see me holding him, their face would go soft with nostalgia, and they would say something like, "oh, these days are so precious, and they're over so fast. Treasure every moment." And I would find some way to politely laugh or deflect, thinking: you must not remember these days at all. Because if you did, you would not be reminiscing about them in such bucolic tones.

We didn't have the easiest time of infancy. Drew had colic; I suffered postpartum depression. In hindsight, it's no wonder I had a snarky internal response to the "treasure each moment!" refrain. Yes, babyhood is over quickly in the grand scheme of a kid's lifetime -- but when one is experiencing depression, sleep deprivation, an infant whose cries are difficult to soothe, and time appearing to pass at the speed of cold molasses, it doesn't seem as though it's ever going to be over at all.

On the whole, infancy is a time I don't mind having behind us. Having a toddler -- really, these days, a kid; a growing boy -- is far more fun. So I've been surprised to discover that, as we've begun preparing to transition Drew out of a crib, I've had some pangs of nostalgia. Remembering rocking in the silent bedroom, quite pregnant, wondering what it would be like when we had an actual baby to put in that crib. Remembering that first winter, when Drew was a wee comma punctuating the crib mattress's great expanse.

Drew in his crib. December 2009.

My memories move in and out of measurable time. Hour after hour I glided with Drew in the rocker in the grey almost-dark of the nursery, my hand stroking his head, and then when he was asleep set him gingerly back in the crib and tiptoed away. I remember the nursing snack plates Ethan would make for me every night, so that when I nursed and nursed and nursed I would have something tasty to consume to keep my own blood sugar up. I remember nursing, and cuddling, for endless hours. The orbit of rocker to couch to crib, rocker to couch to crib.

There are shadow versions of these memories, too. I remember the baby monitor waking me again and again, the exhausted shuffle down the stairs to his room, the nursing and rocking, the tentative attempts to place him back in his crib so I could get one more precious hour of sleep. I remember being so exhausted one morning that I placed him in his vibrating bouncy seat and lay down beside him just for a second. Ethan found me some time later, fast asleep on the nursery floor. I remember that when people made wistful noises about the joys of infancy, often I wanted to scream.

Now that the big-boy bed sits in boxes in our entry foyer waiting to be assembled, I'm discovering that I wasn't exactly correct when I swore I would never miss those early days. There are things I miss, though most of them are hard to verbalize -- like his peachfuzzed baby head with its scent of milk. When Drew needs comfort now, it's a bit of a struggle to fold his long-limbed body into mine, his head onto my shoulder. When I put him to bed now, hefting him up into my arms and over the bar into the crib, I know our days of this particular bedtime routine are numbered. There's a poignancy in that.

Tall, grown-up boy. June 2012.

It's possible, it turns out, to feel nostalgia for something that wasn't comfortable while it was happening. In retrospect, those first months of infancy feel to me like an extension of childbirth: exhausting, hard, seemingly infinite (and sometimes seemingly unbearable) -- but once over, worth every instant. More than worth it, to be blessed with Drew.

I went into parenthood with the aspiration of finding the blessing in all things. I know I have often failed to live up to that  imagined grace. But sometimes knowing that a change is coming enables one to wake up to the sweetness of what is about to pass. I suspect I am reconnecting with the love and the yearning that the crib represents because I know it's about to be gone.

No one can treasure everything. Maybe all we can really do is try to notice a few instants in every day, each one a single still in an unfolding slideshow. Click: tiny Drew in my arms, swaddled tight. Click: Drew lies at the foot of the crib, playing a kick-piano with his feet. Click: Drew sleeps peacefully in the crib, limbs akimbo. A moment is here and then gone, tucked into memory like a flower petal into a book.

But each one offers an opportunity for waking. Kairos time rather than chronos time, as Glennon Melton put it. Or, using the language of my own tradition, mochin d'gadlut -- spacious mind, expanded consciousness -- rather than mochin d'katnut, small mind. I can aim to wake up and treasure this moment. One expanded moment, containing everything. And then it is gone.